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Hitler's Attack on Westbrook Villas
Darlington was a very lucky town during the last German war, suffering very little damage despite having strategically important industries and being located on two of the most important rail and road routes in the country.
The night Hitler did take notice of Darlington at last was late in the night of Sunday 4th March 1945. It was the first time for nine months that there had been piloted plane attacks over England and most activity was over the North East. As far as Darlington was concerned it was the first time it had seen enemy activity for 3 years. On that night two waves of German aircraft strafed various areas of the North East, some with cannon shells and some with tracer bullets.
One lone raider, a Focke-Wulf, seemed to get lost, came across country, hedge hopped its way up the A1 towards Darlington and followed the Great North Road up Northgate. I do not recall hearing the air raid warning (was it flying too low to be detected?) but we did hear the scream of a very low flying plane and the rat-tat-tat of gunfire. In the lull after the racket, my mother closely followed by myself went to the front door of no 12 to see what had happened.
Outside, patrolling the street was Frank Holmes, our street?s voluntary ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden, wearing his dark overcoat and tin hat. Like most men and women not in the armed forces, Frank, an electrical engineer, did two jobs; one as Chief Electrical Engineer at the Ashmore, Benson & Pease works in Middlesbrough during the day with the added duty of Fire Watch and ARP warden at night. Seeing us at the door Frank called out calmly and reassuringly go back in, he's?s coming round again! so we promptly did. And the plane did come round again.
|The next morning, looking round we found that an incendiary bullet had hit the back wall of our house narrowly escaping the tiers of our guinea-pig hutches and the highly flammable sacks of hay next to them. After leaving a dent in the wall it had then ricocheted off to the door of our outside pantry in the yard, where miraculously it had become wedged in the 5/8 inch hole of the hasp on the door. The hasp was a 6 1/2inch loop of cast iron which could be used to secure the door with a padlock but of course, in pre-war and wartime days such precautions against crime were not necessary so the hasp always hung loosely on the door. When we inspected the damage we found that the hasp with its bullet passenger had swung backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards like a pendulum, making a scorched arc on the wooden door until it came gently to rest causing no real damage at all.
At least two other houses in the street were hit. No 22 was splattered by three shells, one of which went into the pantry knocking an enamel mug off a shelf. Then in the sixties a fourth shell was found just below roof level above the bathroom window. The other house to be hit was no 18 where a bullet penetrated the wall into the kitchen downstairs and ricocheted all around the room narrowly missing Mrs Holmes head as it whizzed past.
In another area of town a young air raid warden/dispatch rider was hit in the arm.
The German Raiders were shot down by a Mosquito Squadron which had been night fighting over the skies of Britain over the previous 4 years. Other news at the time was that the Italians were now fighting with the Allies, there was fighting on the outskirts of Hamburg, and Finland with notably great bravery and with even greater political acumen in view of the Soviet advance, had declared war on Germany. In this context this last death throe raid so late in the war seems incomprehensibly incompetent. I?m only glad that bombs did not follow the bullets, or perhaps they were meant to and failed.
Picture:De Havilland Mosquito. These were constructed from wood, British ash, and were actually faster than the Spitfire.
Arthur Robinson's Pigeon Heroes
|Besides his normal work during WWII Arthur Robinson was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service but also made a further intriguing contribution to the war effort because of his hobby of pigeon racing. He was asked to supply homing pigeons to the Signals Regiment for vital war work for Bomber Command. The Regiment had two soldiers based on the Robinsonís gardens, then in Brinkburn Road, for over a year just looking after the pigeons. There was another loft near Scotch Corner and one at Morpeth. When the bomber offensive began in 1942, Arthur was sending nine pigeons every three or four days to Middleton St. George airport (later, Teesside International Airport). Every aircraft that flew out had two birds in a tight container. Should the crew be forced to ditch over the sea, they would toss the birds out, bale themselves out and then, once in their dinghies, they would fish the pigeons out, attach details of their location and set the homing birds free. Arthur commented that it must have worked because they kept coming back for more pigeons.On one occasion when Arthur went to collect his pigeons he spoke to a rather shaken pilot who had just returned safely. His aircraft had all its navigational aids shot out and the pilot had no idea of the way to go. He looked in the box at the pigeons and found they had turned around. He turned the plane in the direction the pigeons were pointing and arrived home successfully. Those birds that survived several raids were given home leave. Arthur found the birds a bit upset and unnerved after they'd done two or three bombing operations, but they soon settled down. Not all of the birds came back and loads and loads of pigeons were lost. But, as Arthur commented, every time a couple of pigeons were lost, someone else lost a son. And there were five or six young lads on those planes.
Pidgeons were used to carry very valuable information and around a quarter of a million flew. They can fly at 60 mph and in excess of 300 miles using the sun and magnetic compass to navigate. In the 2 world wars 1/2 million pigeons served and their navigational skills saved 1000s of lives.
In the First World War the Robinsons' pigeons played an even more intriguing role as spies, working undercover, relaying vital intelligence. The involvement of the Robinson familyís pigeons in warfare started in 1914 when the newly formed Government Pigeon Service approached Arthur William Robinson, Arthur Robinsonís father. As assistant chief conveyor for the Up North Combine, quite possibly the world's largest pigeon organisation Arthur was well known in pigeon circles. He was asked to supply some birds to take part in espionage work. The pigeons went out on trawlers from Grimsby and were sent back with messages regarding the movements of enemy battleships, spy-ships and Q-ships, The younger Arthur remembered that the police were always at his family's home in Barron Street collecting the ringed messages.
The Robinson family have several certificates signed by top brass thanking them for the contribution the pigeons made to the WWI and WWII war efforts.
John Carter Japanese Death Camp Survivor
John Carter who lived at 8A Westbrook Villas was a survivor of a Japanese death camp.His father, Joe Carter and mother were members of the Salvation Army. John joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was captured by the Japanese in Malaya. Known to everyone as Nick, he was a cook in the army.
A colleague, Bob remembers that he saved his life by getting him an egg. He also sewed a ring into the lining of his coat so the Japanese couldn't take it.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were the last troop out of Malaya and piped their way across the causeway.
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